Am I Ready to Adopt a Pet - Part IV

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We’re making headway in our personal inventory toward determining our readiness for pet parenthood. Our desire to expand our circle of love is strong and we have determined that having a pet fits snugly into our life plan; where we go, they go - and they stay - regardless of who moves in! If our companion is a dog, we have looked into breeds/mixes that are a potential good match for our tempo and lifestyle. Now, it’s time to ask:

Is my physical environment appropriate for the pet(s) I am considering?

My dear, departed Aunt Evie and her husband, Paul, once lived in the hills above Laguna Beach. Both had a penchant for birds. My seven-year-old heart thumped with anticipation as my parents drove me up the steep, winding road to their mid-century modern home wedged into the hillside.

After giving quick hugs to my aunt and uncle, I’d race into their backyard wonderland, perennially shaded by rock and shrub. Standing on the patio, I closed my eyes and filled my ears with the chatter of cockatoos and cockatiels perched on a splay of branches vaulting more than 20 feet above me. This veritable Shangri-La was contained by a carefully, installed canopy of netting. My aunt and uncle had converted their outdoor space into an aviary!

Okay, so my aunt and uncle went to extraordinary lengths to accommodate their feathered companions. But it was worth it; the birds were happy and so was everyone who came to visit them!

Of course, you don’t need a zoo, or the Taj Mahal or a rolling estate on Hyannis Port to comfortably house a furry, feathered or otherwise non-human companion. But, a little thought about our abode goes a long way toward our pet’s safety and happiness.

Most cats could be happy in just about any indoor space offering food, toys, litter box and human warmth. However, these are but a few of a feline’s favorite things. Cats are natural explorers and hunters. They love to climb and perch on high places to scout out their domain and protect it against interloping vermin. 

Until about 40 years ago, cats were primarily considered outdoor pets so they could indulge these instincts at whim. However, with the continued encroachment of humans into natural spaces, more cats - and some small dogs - have fallen prey to predators such as coyotes and raptors. Also, building upward has marginalized green space. As cats came indoors, their hunting “edge” flew out the window.

The answer? Bring the “jungle” indoors. Cut small holes into paper bags or small boxes, stuff them with a favorite dry food and watch kitty activate deductive reasoning and get some exercise. Place water bowls in several places and at varying levels throughout the home to encourage exploration. Strategically-placed scratching posts help cats sharpen their defenses and stretch their back and legs while saving our furniture.

Like cats, dogs are best kept in dry, clean conditions with established boundaries and sheltered from extremes in temperature. Human medications and household cleaners should be kept out of reach. We also must learn about plants and human foods that can be deadly to our dog. Avoid hoarding at all costs or turning the living room into a storage locker. A heavier or more rambunctious dog could easily topple over a deadly tower of heavy boxes onto themselves.

Matching a particular dog breed/mix to a category of housing (apartment, condo, house, etc.) is a little trickier, but not impossible. One might assume that bigger dogs require more space, but that is not necessarily the case. For example, a Jack Russell terrier may need more space to romp and release pent-up energy than a Great Dane would. Certainly, we will want enough space to comfortably accommodate our canine companion. Free-standing homes with high, fenced yards and doggie doors are bonuses, but not mandatory.

Sadly, some pets don’t even have the benefit of four walls, but reap the benefits of love nonetheless. In fact, some homeless families provide a more nurturing environment for their pets - limited though they may be - than many well-heeled pet parents. Consider the homeless man I met in Vancouver, B.C. last year and the retired TV celebrity who used to live down the street from me. The first thing the homeless man did when I gave him my leftover chicken was to feed his dog. The first thing the celebrity did when downsizing was to get rid of his 14-year old dog (interesting that I always found his comedy sketches to be no laughing matter).

Regardless of where we live, one truth sustains: a hearth is optional, a heart is not.